How Can You Assess My Creativity?

How Can You Assess My Creativity?

We recently conducted an LKDSB Youth Talk for intermediate students to share their voices. It was modelled after TEDx and we had a great turn out of students, teachers and parents. Stay tuned for it on youtube.

One talk stood out to me and has me thinking again. I just read Is our job as a teacher obsolete? by Jonathon So (@MrSoclassroom) in which he questions the amount of information sharing we do as teachers. With information readily available, will our jobs become obsolete if we do not rethink education. In other words, we no longer attend school to obtain knowledge – per se.

“How Can You Assess My Creativity?”

A grade 7 student said this line in one of his talks. He was referring to the fact that he never really did well in Art class but is loving Genius Hour. For him, the difference was that in Art all students did the same thing and were compared to each other on a quantified scale whereas in Genius Hour he could doodle and draw whatever he wanted. Genius Hour brought out his love of the Arts – more specifically – his creativity. How do you assess that?

While we keep preaching buzzwords like “21st century pedagogy” and “6Cs” and “passion projects” – I don’t expect much to change until we rethink assessment practices. Put observations and conversations aside, if our job at the end of the day is to assign a numerical value or letter grade, I don’t see an end to “regurgitation of facts”. Tests. quizzes and worksheets are very easy to mark and compare. After all, aren’t we to compare students on a “standard” ?

Jonathon’s post also lead me to the following ideas:


The biggest issue with scheduling timetables for me is that we dictate when learning will happen. I hate telling students who are knee deep in a rich math task that they have to stop the learning and go to another class, although I am not sure of the alternative if we have rotary teachers. I understand the allocation of minutes. I get it. I also understand that removing rotary is a solution to this problem. But one solution might cause more problems. After all, these kids will have eight teachers in grade nine.

I also struggle with the bell telling us when we can and cannot eat. We’ve actually moved to “working lunches” in my class. With the exception of students who monitor primary classes, we eat whenever we want. It is sometimes difficult to know whether it is class time or lunch time as we eat and work away as we please.


Lastly, I feel strongly that we will continue to see regurgitation until we reform assessment.  While Growing Success empowers us to converse and make observations, we still have exam policies in place everywhere. Until we redefine Success Criteria and rubrics, we will continue to quantify student learning. It is quite difficult to assign a numerical value to anecdotal notes.

I also had a conversation with Deborah McCallum (@Bigideasinedu) about Collaborative Inquiry, Innovation, Reimagining School. She wrote a great post on the idea of makerspaces, learning commons and creativity.

While I applaud and admire the concept of having a learning commons, I wonder about the pedagogy behind it.

Are we creating a true environment for students to explore? I wonder if a scheduled visit to the Learning Commons would yield this. Are we better off to jump into the Learning Commons when the inquiry questions arise? I remember as a kid going the the Library during Library time and pretending to find a book for the full period. What a waste. I have concerns about our new makerspace / learning commons models. It has to be more than just “engagement”.

Similarly, I continue to hear about schools dismantling computer labs to avoid the “all will do the same activity in rows” concept. The reality is we are replacing computer labs with mobile labs. From a pedagogical standpoint, what really has changed? All we have done now is brought the lab to the class. Many classrooms still have all students doing the same task, but on iPads. Should have left the lab alone.

So, as we continue to push student choice, creativity, collaboration, inquiry, etc. isn’t it about time we stop comparing students to each other for assessment? Technology allows us to personalize learning, differentiate instruction and make all students successful. How can I assess personalized learning with a common rubric?

Thanks Brody, from grade 7 for making me think: “How Can You Assess My Creativity?”


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14 Responses for this post

  1. Jonathan so
    Jonathan so
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    Brian I think assessment is the way to go if we want change. I think that first we have to look at how we are assessing and if it is different then evaluation.

    For me assessment is what we do everyday. We look at work, talk to kids and then give them feedback. Whereas evaluation is how we get a report card mark. It is just that a mark. If we honour real assessment then I think we can use a common rubric but with the understanding that rubrics are for standards and that there needs to be differiantation in it. The feedback should be meaningful. The rubric also Needs to be created with the students and With their input. Great post.

    I believe that we

    1. Jaime Young
      Jaime Young
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      I totally agree with these comments on creativity. I think the issue is that as teachers, and students, we know what we want to see in a final product, and the only why we know how to communicate that quality is through using the word “creativity”. Only through further education of teachers about wordage, and inquiry in general, will be be able to move away from these situations. One way we teach students is through modelling, and that is a way for teachers to learn as well. If there is no modelling from others, how can teachers, who are willing to change, and know they want to, know what teaching in this day and age could look like?

  2. Deborah
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    Great post Brian! I agree with you about the prescribed makerspaces – is it real inquiry if it is enforced?

    I think that we can provide choice in our learning commons for self- directed learning – but right now I think that we are missing opportunities to use this space, and think that current planning time models are not providing much value to students and teachers alike, for the same reasons you mentioned above. I think my philosophy behind this is to provide some next steps for better utilizing the time, space, and cultivating student constructivist and connectivist learning.

    Ultimately we do not have a choice but to use the criterion referenced assessment – our report cards do require it, but certainly need to avoid norm referenced assessments. I do believe that we can do this by cultivating more space and time and opportunity for the conversations and practices that are in Growing Success.

    Thanks for further prompting me to think!


  3. Lisa Noble
    Lisa Noble
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    Wowza. So much here – I tell you, you make me think about everything. You got rid of the hat rule, and now you’re eating whenever you need to. Revolutionary (and it totally shouldn’t be). We just need to have that conversation.

    The part about art really resonated with me….I am lucky enough to work with a very talented intermediate teacher with an art background, and I love the open-endedness of much of what she does….but the kids sometimes struggle with it, because they are very used to the “everyone must do” approach, and aren’t sure what to do when given choice. We also talk sometimes about art activities that really aren’t, involving only one choice of medium to be put together one specific way. I will hunt down an amazing blog I read a few years ago about a teacher who looked at the art curric with their primary class to figure out how they were going to meet expectations – there was no here are the bunny templates we are all going to cut out – and it was transformative. I was not a strong art (i.e. painting/drawing) student in elementary school, and now I design and create beautiful knitted things, integrating colour theory and repeating motifs and all kinds of other art theory. I figured out a way to tap into my creativity.

    The free-flow library/learning commons/lab is a dream for me – we go as we need to. I also think we need scheduled time when the librarian works with our classes/us to determine what might help – how to use an internet search engine well? how to cite different sources in a written/digital piece? how to curate our resources as we’re working on a project? how to find databases written at the level of our readers? I think there’s a place for scheduled library time beyond book exchange – I actually think book exchange should happen whenever we need it (and yes, NEED is the word for a voracious reader)

    So very much to think about here. Thanks, as always, for pushing back. It’s hugely appreciated.

  4. Neil Lyons
    Neil Lyons
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    Great post. I think any teacher that is trying to provide students with an authentic “modern” learning experience will understand your point of view. I agree that Growing Success was a huge step forward and is the document all teachers should be (more) familiar with. But, it seems that we are trying to jam a square peg (“21st Century Learning”) into a round hole (the school system).

    While schools are still organized around a 25:1 or 30:1 ratio of student:teacher in “classes” and further categorized into “subjects” and “grade levels” and even into “schools”, how different are things really going to be?

  5. Jerry Hoefs
    Jerry Hoefs
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    I’ve had many teachers visit our maker’s lab and ask how we assess students. My reply is “How do you assess creativity?” As educators we’ve been taught that everything must be put into neat little boxes. The very act of trying to assess creativity kills it. It’s not something that can be given a formula. As for prescribing activities in maker’s lab, I have trouble with younger students who are not familiar with the engineering design process, and also the use of tools and materials. Many of our kids don’t know what to do with themselves when left on their own, so I try to give them a challenge or work them through a project.

  6. Colleen Hartman
    Colleen Hartman
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    Its so refreshing to see in writing what I am constantly thinking these days, where is the true inquiry? Why is only one rubric used to assess a product? Why bother signing out iPads so we can all work with the same app? I watch my own children become less engaged each year as they are forced to conform in ways that go against their very nature. Our classrooms are rigid places we are given desks and chairs all one size fits all, everyone gets the same pencil, paper, school iPads with pre-approved apps we deem learning acceptable, one computer (usually on teacher desk).

    I recently asked grade six students to design their ideal learning space and I was happy many said they would want a classroom like ours where I have a variety of tools easily accessible for all, no questions asked each student has right to use tool that works for them, what’s the old adage “there are two tools for every job 1 the right tool and 2 the tool that works” (e.g., some write with mechanical pencils, pens, tech). We have goose paper for those who need to brainstorm or doodle during discussions, we have therapeutic putty for those who want to exercise fingers before writing, we have squishy balls for those who need to keep busy to stay focused. I think allowing students to have choice is ultimate differentiation , choice in how content is imputed, received, processed and outputed. Inquiry requires allowing students to drive their learning by providing choice and freedom and trusting students.

    Keep pushing forward! We need to continue to be reflective practitioners always asking if it’s what’s best for our students. I always cringe watching a six foot tall student being forced to sit criss cross on a gym floor then get in trouble when they try to stretch after sitting for forty plus minutes.

  7. Marc
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    To quote Lisa, “Wowza!” There is a lot here. I’ve been wrestling with the same issue of where that magic happens at the intersection of makerspace and Learning Commons. I agree that small chunks of library time to do nothing more than give students a taste is, for the most part, a wasted activity. I am a teacher librarian and am working to transform our school’s learning ethos so that the scheduled time in the Learning Commons is the tip of the iceberg and that free class time and lunch and after school times are used by those who have a personal need to continue to pursue that burning desire to inquire and create. The Learning Commons only works if it is seen as the creative inquiry hub of the school.

    I also agree that making has to be about more than simple engagement. Engagement is clearly important as the disengaged don’t learn, but we, as teachers, have to be clear when we are teaching the skills of making and when we are leveraging those skills for a deeper inquiry. It is playtime with a purpose.

    Ultimately, I hope that my space becomes that place in the school where all learners come to inquire, explore and create. We have the tools, resources and community to support that and people want to live in that space and engage in this kind of learning.

    I also wonder about the assessment of creativity. I don’t think that it can be assessed. I think the thinking that goes on behind that creativity can, but creativity itself is far too elusive and personal a concept to be able to truly assess. Ideas around assessment of visible thinking do work and lead in the same direction.

    Bravo for the great post Brian and thank you to Leslie Maniotes for making me aware of it!

  8. Julie Johnson
    Julie Johnson
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    Great post! You raise questions and issues that I have also grappled with.

    Creativity doesn’t always match curriculum and subsequent assessment and I find for this reason the maker spaces and passion products, which are ideas that are very exciting, tend to occur outside a typical day, being the exception rather than the rule.

    When I’ve tried implementing a student choice project, I’ve tried co creating criteria based on a general example…ie, what makes a short story good? Or what makes a blog site good? What elements does it have? Now let’s make a check list of those criteria for yours to follow… And we try to quantify how ‘successful’ it is from there.

    But the trouble is, even in ‘real life’ we have a hard time deciding what is good art, for example people disagree all the time on Goodreads on whether a fiction story is good or bad… There are grey areas when attempting to judge creative projects. The process can be so subjective! Which in turn makes evaluation tricky.

    Anyway, great post!
    Julie Johnson

  9. Doline
    | |

    Great post Brian and I agree with you and I’ve been thinking about how do I assess the kids so that I don’t kill their creativity?
    I came with the idea of them choosing however they want to be assessed as long as they hit some standards and requirements.
    For example, as a language teacher, they had to learn about descriptive language; So I would tell them show me you understand the process of descriptive language as opposed to this is what u need to do to pass. They can do it however they want, and use their creativity and imagination and frankly; the results is impressive as they create amazing work however they feel and see it.
    We have also changed rubric together to accomodate this kind of assessment that unleash students creativity as opposed to killing it.
    I’ll post the rubric soon.

    1. Doline
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      This is the rubric we have created. Most work was done by my students.
      I see and hear what the writer sees and hears
      I feel and smell what the writer feels and smells.
      I can taste what the writer is tasting

      There are many adjectives that make me picture the scene and many adverbs that make me picture the action. The use of figurative language helps me to create a great picture of what’s going on in my mind.

      I know how the day looked like on that specific day, I know how the people involved looked like and I can picture the action of these people in details.

      If I were a film director, I would easily make the movie out of the description. I wouldn’t assume.

      I know the WHAT, WHERE, WHO, HOW and the WHEN.

      They did the same with Strong, Ok, Developing, Experiencing.


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